Hybrid Animation: The Main Problems (Hybrid Animation-Integrating 2D and 3D Assets) Part 5

Visual Development

Before we can discuss what this topic is about—creating a hybrid animation—we must research and design the style of our film. A little research will help us expand our horizons and move beyond the first image that pops into our heads. Graduate students spend the bulk of their time toward earning their degree by researching styles that appeal to them and then formulating their own style. Undergrad students should spend the bulk of their time researching styles and mimicking them until they understand the fundamental makeup of each style. By visual styles I am not necessarily referring to animation only. We can find inspiration in sculpture, painting, illustrations, architecture—any art form. Do not limit yourself. For the beginning stages we will stay simple, and in this assignment we are going to use Frank Miller’s graphic style as inspiration. I urge you to dig deeper during your research phase.

What Does It Mean to research a Visual style?

To me this is such a fun part of the process. At Disney, the training department would offer all sorts of classes and guest lectures. I sat in on most, because that was the department where I worked. The whole department (all five of us) set up the chairs and handed out the pizzas, and I would get an education out of it until it was time to put everything away, go back to the training room, and show artists how to use the software. One of those guest lecturers was a production stylist for Hercules, Sue C. Nichols. She described this part of the process as going into the candy store and looking at the isles and isles of shiny, tasty candy. At first it is difficult to make the choice. It is an inspiration process that artists should thrive in.

When timelines are involved, I see that students often fall back to a style they are comfortable with. My students know that I am constantly pushing them to move beyond having only one style of drawing or animation. I am sure it has not been easy for them; they have not liked it but worked through it anyway, and I thank them for their hard work. I liken it to actors who can get pigeonholed into one type of character type versus actors who can move in and out of different characters seamlessly. It gives you a portfolio with much more breadth that allows you to expand into any type of role. Do not be afraid to try different styles of animation, different character looks, and different final compositing styles.

Take a look at the extra features on Disney’s Treasure Planet feature animated film on DVD. You will find that the filmmakers used N.C. Wyeth and other illustrators from the School of Illustration as their visual inspiration for the art style of Treasure Planet. When researching for a visual style, aim high. If you think a Rembrandt painting captures the warmth that would best support the emotion you are trying to create, use Rembrandt as inspiration for your visual style.

How Much research is Enough?

You always want to complete more research than you need. Research should be an inspirational process. There are plenty of topics on concept art and visual development to help you through this portion of the process. At Disney, we had a research librarian who stocked shelves with pertinent topics, DVDs, slides, and so on that would be on hand in case an artist needed inspiration and guidance during the course of the project. Once she was even asked to please research “the meaning of life" (with no signs of Monty Python anywhere) for Brother Bear—and her results were due in two weeks.

My warning about the research previsualization step: often I have seen students who adore the previsualization stage and doing the concept art, but when it comes to the actual production of their short film, they either run out of time because so much was spent during the previsualization stage or they run out of passion.

What if i Work on This step Later and continue with the story Development?

You can. If your team is made up of more than you, the jobs can be assigned to different individuals. However, when working on a small team project or a personal project, I urge my students not to put off the visual development stage, especially in the case of 2D/3D projects. Research early on helps the animator to work toward a visual style much earlier. This style can work itself into your final storyboards. With these more developed images you can begin to think about the media needed and other questions that we will look at shortly.

As a word of caution: when developing storyboards for 3D animation you must work out many issues completely (more so than you would for 2D animation) to aid in production. For instance, you do not have to model everything completely if it is not going to be seen. This can be visualized in your storyboard process early on and save production time. The same is true, even more so, for a hybrid animation. Planning in the beginning stages will save time, money, and the sanity of your art production manager (APM).

Now we are ready to focus on what this topic is about: creating a hybrid animation from this story. We’re going to work with the second treatment of the story where character A is absolutely clueless that he is about to be rejected.

The questions we need to ask are as follows:

•    What medium or media would best tell this story?

•    What are the technical challenges?

What media Would Best Tell This story?

In other words, how should the story look? We decided to use a flat space in most shots. Flat space does not have to be 2D; it could be 3D. Depth cues can be removed from 3D shots to create flat space fairly easily. However, if we look at our chosen style of Frank Miller, we see that a flat graphic style might be best depicted with 2D. The most important point is that the linework should be smooth and graceful.

To push the deep space aspect of our sequence, we will need to work with the camera. By having parallax between the buildings, characters, trees, and so on, we can push this naturally flat space to appear deeper.

In shot 4, we want to make sure that the ring box is shown in the deepest space of all. It is character A’s hopeful moment. We might want to use 3D for that ring box and use tones and highlights to push the tonal range.

If we pushed shot 6, “Character A waits for the answer," to be in ambiguous space instead of deep space, it might up the intensity even more and cause the audience to feel on edge. If you’ve ever seen a horror film or Citizen Kane, you have seen ambiguous shots. The result is that the members of the audience aren’t quite sure where they are. Composing an ambiguous shot can be tricky, so we’d have to make sure we do some tests on how to achieve the type of look we are aiming for.

What Are the technical challenges?

As we proceed in the next topic, we need to keep in mind that the following technical challenges need solutions:

1.    The flat 2D: traditional portions. Should they be pencil or digital vector line to achieve a smooth look?

2.    For the deep space shot’s parallax: Can we accomplish this with compositing only or all in 3D?

3.    The 3D ring box: We’ll need to test a cartoon rendering style and match it to the 2D style that we have accomplished.

4.    The ambiguous shot: How will we achieve this shot? We better put this one into testing pipeline first and allow extra research and iterations so that we come up with the best look, not just the first one.

The final step in this stage: more research.

What Has been done before?

It does not matter how old the film is or even how successful a film was. Research should include everything. Many lessons can be gleaned from films that failed to pull off what they were trying to achieve. Perhaps the technology just wasn’t ready at the time the film was made. How did the filmmakers go about pulling off the shot? DVDs and their great commentaries and supplemental information nowadays are an amazing resource. “Why, back in my day, we didn’t have the Internet and DVDs with people telling us how they did things. We were all clueless and had to figure things out!" My students laugh when I go on my old lady rant, but it is the truth. It also made us all great problem solvers. We had to figure it out, most of the time without manuals. Those were the priceless printed tombs that the school only had one copy of and you did not have access to them. Start storing up your old lady stories. You’ll be telling your own version in about 20 years. Research. You must do this. Nothing is too old. Nothing is too wrong. You can learn something from everything. So, now for our first assignment.

Project: 2D/3D Movie Analysis

Students and those who are studious, the following is your homework assignment.

With this topic’s ideas fresh in your head, now it is time to research 2D/3D films. Review a 2D/3D film of your choosing. Refer to the list at the bottom of this project sheet for possible selections. Feel free to add your own film to the list. There are certainly more.

For students: Present to the class a PowerPoint presentation, keynote, html page, or other visual presentation of your findings. Utilize DVD players on the PC that do image grabs, or use a Mac. Here are some questions to answer in your presentation:

1.    What type of art direction was used in the film?

2.    What were the film’s artistic influences (i.e., artistic styles)?

3.    Was the combination of media a success or a failure? Why?

4.    What is your favorite scene? Why?

5.    What technical information did you glean from the special features or commentary of the film? Site your sources.

You are assessed on the following skills:

1.    Problem solving (getting images, putting the presentation together, testing that the presentation works properly)

2.    Analytical abilities (depth of analysis, proper application of topics learned)

3.    Aesthetic appreciation (ability to visualize art assets)

4.    Technical appreciation (ability to present the technical concepts learned)

Here are some hybrid animation examples (to name a few):

Prince of Egypt, 1998

Mulan, 1998

The Iron Giant, 1999

Tarzan, 1999

Cowboy Bebop, 1999

Titan A.E., 2000

El Dorado, 2000

Osmosis Jones, 2001

Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron, 2002

Lilo and Stitch, 2002

Treasure Planet, 2002

Brother Bear, 2003

The Triplets of Belleville, 2003

Princess Mononoke, 2004

Steamboy, 2004

Mushishi (episode 1), 2005

The Simpsons Movie, 2007

Family Guy Blue Harvest, 2007

Futurama, 1999-2009

Waltz with Bashir, 2009

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